A group of United Nations independent human rights experts today expressed deep concerns at what they see as “systematic harassment” of the Shia population and religious leaders, including stripping the citizenship of many, by authorities in Bahrain.
They also criticized restrictions on movement and travel bans imposed on human rights defenders.
“The intensified wave of arrests, detentions, summons, interrogations and criminal charges brought against numerous Shia religious clerics and singers, human rights defenders and peaceful dissidents is having a chilling effect on fundamental human rights,” the experts said in a news release issued by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
Citing specific examples which show that Shias are specifically targeted on the basis of their religion, the experts described a wide range of charges, such as ‘inciting hatred against the regime’ and ‘illegal gathering’ as “groundless accusations used to hide a deliberate targeting of Shias in the country.”
According to the release, those and other charges were brought against them in relation to their peaceful gatherings and religious congregations and peaceful expression of their beliefs, views and dissenting opinions.
“These charges should not be used as a pretext to restrict the freedom of expression, freedom of association and peaceful assembly and freedom of religion or belief,” the UN experts stressed.
Other actions recently undertaken in the country include the dissolution of Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, shutting of faith-based organizations, restrictions on the practice of religious rites, on Friday prayers and peaceful assemblies, restrictions on movement, restricted access to the Internet and a ban on Shia religious leaders from preaching, noted the release.
The human rights experts also highlighted that the authorities are using the Bahrain Citizenship Act or the Protection of Society against Acts of Terror law to revoke citizenship, leaving people stateless and facing deportation from the country.
The experts further expressed concern on the allegation that on 20 June, the Government revoked the citizenship of Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim, without giving him an opportunity to defend himself. He has been charged with illegal fundraising and money laundering and his case will be heard in court on 15 September.
The also expressed concern that a human rights defender, Sheikh Maytham Al-Salman, who faced a de-factor travel ban since January, was brought to the public prosecution yesterday on charges of ‘illegal gathering’ after being subjected to long hours of interrogation on 14 August and overnight detention.
Calling on the Government to stop such arbitrary arrests or summons and to release all those who have been detailed for exercising their rights, the experts said, “The authorities should also lift the restrictions on movement including travel bans imposed on different Shia religious leaders and human rights defenders.”
“The Government should not resort to repressive measures and we urge it to enter into dialogue with all relevant parties in order to prevent unnecessary conflict and violence,” they concluded.
The experts voicing their concerns include:
- Sètondji Adjovi, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention;
- David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression;
- Maina Kiai, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association;
- Heiner Bielefeldt, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; and
- Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.
Special Rapporteurs and independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.